Okay, for all my left-brain reasoning and list-making and bullet points and binder festishes, I will admit something of the mystic in me: I check my horoscope, pretty regularly, and I even sometimes think it makes a huge holy heap of sense. Not always, and please don’t think I’m referring to bullpiles like Cosmo Horoscopes or any horsejunk like that.
No, I have two, and so far only two, sources that I check – Rob Brezny’s Free Will Astrology (which is delightful, playful and sometimes literarily wonderful) and Jonathon Cainer’s Zodiac Forecast (which is humorous, parable-driven and written with the perfect amount of sardonic positivity).
I mention them only because my Free Will horoscope has been bouncing all up in my head all week long, and I think I’ve finally answered the question for myself, “How can you possibly be intentionally lost?” Especially in light of the tragedies that have been throwing a lot of people off lately, with the Boston bombing rattling everyone’s bones just this week, I think it’s important to remember how to get lost, but not lose sight.
I’m a Virgo (ahem, the aforementioned i-dotting and t-crossing) and this week the stars had this to say to me, which I think is worth sharing as solid (if somewhat perplexing) advice for all:
“Never to get lost is not to live,” writes Rebecca Solnit in her book A Field Guide to Getting Lost. In fact, she says that not knowing how to get lost is unhealthy. These are useful ideas to consider right now, Virgo. It will probably do you good to get at least semi-lost. As you wander around without a map or compass, I bet you will stumble upon important teachings. At the same time, I hope you will put some thought into how you’re going to get lost. Don’t just leave it to chance. Make sure there’s a method in your madness.
Madness? Plenty of it. Method? Working on it. The part that really seemed to throw me through a little bit of a paradox hurdle was this: “Put some thought into how you’re going to get lost.” I put a lot of thought into a lot of things: how to manage my work-hectic schedule, how best to get my students to respond with understanding, how to write integrity-driven emails, how to best structure an article, how to give helpful and critical writing feedback, how to keep calm in unpleasant situations, how to set goals, how to reconfigure my head around making money (I’m an idealist trying to break the bad habit of voluntary poverty), how to BLAH and BLAH and BLAH. Sometimes my brain just needs to go nap-nap.
But to put thought into getting lost? Doesn’t getting lost just sort of happen — usually when you aren’t putting thought into anything?
I have this great air freshener (that is now old and not fresh anymore) that I have kept for its wisdom. It says, “Not all who wander are lost.” I have always liked to think of myself as a wanderer, a seeker, a dirt-on-her-cheeks starry-eyed adventurer poking her walking stick into the depths of new caves, but always on some path. Even if the road ahead isn’t visible, the path is there. To where exactly? I have an idea. But to be lost — to be lost is to be cold, isolated, shivery, when the rain is discompassionately beating down on a soaked-through head with no relief and only blurry eyes closing in on themselves. No, we don’t want to be lost.
However, in turning over this idea of being “intentionally lost,” I’ve found a deep sense of peace, comfort and most importantly forgiveness of my current doubt and uncertainty. There are a lot of things this one little body is trying to do right now — from planning a nonprofit business to finding a new roommate to converting an office into something better to teaching to writing, writing, writing to trying to stay afloat financially — that being lost does not seem like something I would want, the opposite, in fact. Here I am, trying to make some sense out of it all. Yet, once again, I return to the wisdom of magic and letting go, and I see that trying to force all the pieces methodically into place just isn’t the best way to slice the cake.
You can’t predict what wondrous openings are up ahead; you just have to keep eagerly anticipating new awakenings at every turn, even from the bottom of the pit.
If I am out on this sunbeaten, open path toward some great future (as we all are, if we choose to see it that way), and I am focusing all my might on getting from point A to point B with adequate amounts of 1) food 2) water 3) shelter 4) friends 5) inspiration and so on, checking my list every day to make sure all the little necessities are showing up for their head count, I might not see the next crevice I need to fall into.
And if you’re going to fall into crevices, as we all do, wouldn’t it be nice to have as much free will catapulting us into them as possible?
Finally, aha! Today, after a week of chanting the mantra “let yourself get intentionally lost” in my head around every turn, I think I have spotted my next crevice. And I’m ready to fall.
The situation: I’ve been hanging onto a dead-end tutoring job with a company that underpays me and is also pretty rude and draining. I’ve been looking for something to replace it, but I’ve experienced that inertia that the disgruntled often feel: dissatisfaction with my current situation but fear of losing its familiarity.
Encouraging myself to “get more lost,” I started the application process again, and today interviewed for a position as a teacher’s aide for a nonprofit that offers an alternative education model for at-risk youth in underserved areas. It pays next to nothing, and the interviewer has repeatedly warned me of the frustration, discouragement and harassment that will likely accompany my acceptance of the role. He’s also basically offered me the position if I want it.
Needless to say, I’m so excited I can barely eat my trail mix.
I will essentially be thrown into a school comprised 100% of the troublemakers, knuckleheads and the most despairing, apathetic, rude little shits you can probably ever imagine, the ones who grew up on the wrong side of the tracks and who will bloody your nose given the chance, be provided little to no instruction and guidance on how to handle these situations, and be expected to simultaneously discipline them into good behavior while inspiring them to see that they are actually worth something and have the power to change their lives. Yeah, I think you can call this “being intentionally lost.”
I know it will be difficult. Emotionally draining. Impossible at times. Painful. Disheartening.
I can’t wait.
I’m sure that “feeling lost” is so close of an acquaintance for these kids that they don’t even know what it would be like not to have that sort of apathy sitting on their shoulders. P.S. My imagination is already running wild, creating personalities and scenarios before I’ve even accepted the position… but the point is:
Being lost is not the problem — being lost without intention is.
If I can be lost (adrift, unsure, aimless) while identifying and remembering what I truly want to accomplish (my intentions) and basking in the weird glory of things falling into place (the wonder), then I have a solid umbrella over my head, so that even in those thunderstorms, I will be able to find my way. And if I can, so can anyone with this mentality, because all it takes is a mental shift and an environment to support it.
I may be lost, but I know these things:
- I intend to use the gift of my life to connect to others so they, too, can see what a gift their life is.
- I intend to express myself with exuberance and joy, so that others, too, may feel the joy of themselves.
- I intend to always challenge myself to learn, grow and explore, to never become stagnant (that is the easiest way to spread misery).
- I intend to speak up rather than let die.
- I intend to help empower the disempowered so they, too, can feel the strength inside them.
- I intend to meet all obstacles with humility, grace and compassion.
- I intend to use my energy to contribute to the solutions, not the problems.
Yes, the recruiter did peg me accurately as an idealist.
But to you, my audience, and later, my students, I want to pose that question. Even during times of doubt, fear, uncertainty, loss and despair, what do you know to be your deepest intentions?
Can you allow yourself to get lost with intention and wonder?
If there’s one thing I might take too much pride in, it’s my analytical, overworking logic-brain. I take pleasure in problem-solving, and I’ve trained myself to be pretty reasonable in a world of chaotic over-churning. Yes, I consider myself something of a mystic (or anyone who really talks to me will categorize me as such, I’m sure) but I’m a reasonable mystic, dammit.
And it can still take a lot of effort to get lost intentionally.
It’s not easy. Not as easy as calling yourself lost and whimpering into a dead world, believing that nothing matters. Or looking for a simplistic answer to explain atrocities like the one we witnessed this week so we don’t have to question ourselves. That’s the easiest thing ever. And another quote-punch to the face: “It takes a lot of work to be happy, none at all to be miserable.” During times of collective confusion like these, rather than get up in arms about who’s doing what wrong, the most productive response would be to look inward, reflect and set some personal intentions going forward.
Bringing it back to the moments you experience here and now, and how they interact with others. Then, the wonder is the part that comes in to remind how bleak it doesn’t have to be. Wonder is what keeps us from giving up entirely, from missing the point of all of life’s little delicacies when the resounding “I’m lost” is drowning everything else out.
I know what it feels like to enter the realm of personhood on this plane of existence, when you learn how to connect your mind, body and spirit, and I’ve seen the moment when it has happened for others. I also know that many physical obstacles exist for many people living in dire situations, and that it can take a lot of time, compassion and persistence to integrate the reality of your own existence, when you’ve been taught your whole life that what you’ve got is just your lot. Working with at-risk youth whose lives have been much harder than mine since the day we were born will be new, but I also know how much small and consistent doses of love, support and humanity can mean to someone teetering on the brink.
Especially in the wake of some terrible events lately, from the Newtown shootings to this week’s Boston bombing, I think it’s more important than ever to get lost, but with strength, resolve and dedication to bolstering, not bullying, your values. It’s okay to allow yourself to be lost — that’s how your mind opens to new truths — but retain your intention. That doesn’t mean don’t get angry or confused, because that would be impossible for 99% of us. But the intention to get as close as you can to the ideal on a daily basis is what matters.
As a side note that seems worth mentioning, one of my students in a class I was subbing one week exactly before the Boston bombings decided to “joke” about how he loves building guns and wants to make nuclear weapons. Where does that come from and how can we reach it? Is there not a huge shift taking place in the collective psyche? If you can feel it, you know it’s there.
Even if I am kind of/sort of lost as to why or how or what it all means, or what exactly it is that is driving me in this direction, my intention is clear: I intend to tough-love some spark of intention and wonder into these kids’ tornado of lost. I, like many other young people hungry for the experience of the world, want to make a difference.
Fully knowing that this path may lead me to feeling so lost, hopeless, discouraged and insignificant at times, my intention is to learn and help as I go. With a healthy sense of wonder for it all.
I don’t need to know 100% why.
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